Cultural identities and challenges of hegemony

Prensa de Frente

Bolivia – Concurrent with a far-reaching reassessment of their cultural identities, the more than 40 indigenous nations have taken onboard the government of Evo Morales Ayma as their own. After more than a year of government by the Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS), the power of mobilization and pressure of the popular sectors in Bolivia remains intact and is continuing to advance. On the other hand, the same elites that were responsible for the looting of natural resources and the structural backwardness, are on the defensive, but bolstered by the power of the transnationals and the United States, are proposing a separatist course. The urban middle classes, minorities and devoid of any project of their own capable of coalescing their demands, oscillate between the two poles.

Let us expand on some keys points regarding this unprecedented process in Latin America:


The social movements made up of peasants, merchants, workers, professionals and academics — each composed to a greater or lesser extent by natives and mestizos, more than 60 percent of the population — are demonstrating with combative mass actions in the streets that they regard the present government as theirs. Two of the major achievements that were won in the first year — the nationalization of hydrocarbons and the launching of the constituent assembly — had been key slogans driving the decisive struggles of recent years.

As for the powerful Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee, whose members say they remain “racially pure”, they are promoting a virtual division of the country known as the “half moon” together with the prefect of Tarija and the prefects of the jungle departments of Pando and Bení. Faced with the actual impossibility of returning to power at this stage, the gas and oil elites have redefined the concept of autonomy to their advantage, making up a bloc self-defined as “economically sustainable” and refusing to centralize and share their regional earnings.

Under democratic and military governments, the committee and the sectors it represents were responsible for the historic looting of the country. Among other things, they opposed the construction of roads that would unite the production of eastern and western Bolivia, and they served as a source of funding for the paramilitary shock troops, composed of neo-Nazi youth who would confront, beat up and shoot demonstrating peasants and students. Poder Democrático y Social (PODEMOS), headed by the former vice-president to Hugo Banzer, Ricardo “Tuto” Quiroga, represents the political expression of this project. In its speeches, the right says it is defending democratic legality against the advance of totalitarianism. In fact, it is resorting to legal intrigues to hobble the constituent assembly, the instrument that the social movements and the government understand will be key to ratifying the changes and in which for the first time the indigenous peoples and peasants are represented.

Occasionally, on the periphery of this polarization, there appear urban middle classes who in many cases voted for Evo Morales in the December 2005 presidential elections, but for the conservative parties in their respective departments. While not sympathizing with the separatist project, the inhabitants of the major cities draw back whenever the peasants rise up in what is defined by the media as a “radical indigenism”, isolating the popular sectors and confronting the Morales government with a hard choice: to uphold the systemic and institutional consensus between the middle strata or to respond automatically to the demands of its bases of support.

As its opening move, imperialism has drawn a regional fence around the potential of the Bolivian process. While the governments of Perú and Colombia – fellow members with Bolivia in the Andean Community of Nations – have each signed Free Trade Agreements with the United States, in Mercosur the situation is no different: despite appearances, the policies of the Brazilian government through Petrobras and its subsidiaries, accompanied by its associate, Argentina, replicate the imperialist approach, albeit on a reduced scale. Only Venezuela operates as a counterweight in this dispute over Bolivia’s resources. In this situation, the positions of Ecuador’s recently installed president, Rafael Correa, show new signs of integration in anti-imperialist code.

It is clear that the process of change that Bolivia is now experiencing under the leadership of the social movements and the MAS is the only real national project for the country. Internally, the challenge for both, and something which was achieved in the last presidential elections, is to tip the urban sectors in their favour, but without petrifying the changes in the popular matrix. This tension will only be resolved through a mature give and take approach and the search for a different institutionalization, through dialogue between government and social movements, with a decisive impact on public policies. Regionally and internationally, the (determining) backwardness at the infrastructural level that has generated and allowed this perpetual looting, leaves Bolivia, in the eyes of big capital, as the weakest link through which to cut the chain of changes that a number of peoples in the region seem to be intent on pursuing.

Translated from Prensa De Frente

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